Guest editor Neil Gaiman gave himself a good out when writing his introduction for this collection. He suggested that, rather than call it the Best American Comics 2010, a title that comes with a lot of baggage and surface-area for critical target practice, that the collection should be labeled A Sampler: Some Really Good Comics, Including Extracts from Longer Stories We Thought Could Stand on Their Own.
On that basis, I liked the collection.
Because this is not the Best that American comics offered during 2010. It is a collection of the types of comics that series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Maden enjoy–which means you are mainly going to get stuff from the fringes, the outsiders, and the independents. There is an excerpt from a Marvel comic, Jonathan Lethem’s Omega the Unknown, but that is the closest you will get to mainstream comics in the whole collection–and let’s face it, Omega the Unknown is pretty far away from the mainstream.
So going from Gaiman’s proposed title, I can just relax and enjoy. Not the Best, but just some Really Good Comics deserving to be read. And there is some good stuff here.
The usual heavy-hitters of the fringe come out to play, like Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library), The Hernandez Bros (Citizen Rex), Robert Crumb (The Book of Genesis), Peter Bagge (The War on Fornication). There were some that I have read before–like the excerpt from Lethem’s Omega the Unknown and Ames and Haspiel’s The Alchoholic. Additionally, there were also a few surprises, such as an appearance by David Mazzucchelli (Asterios Polyp), who I haven’t seen around for a while.
Some of the stories are almost Dadaist, like Theo Ellsworth’s Norman Eight’s Left Arm showing two robots debating the existence of gnomes. Some are slice-of-life/political–Josh Neufeld’s The Flood, which shows two men dealing with the encroaching waters of Hurricane Katrina. There are sweet little romances, like Fred Chao’s Lobster Run.
A few of the comics weren’t to my tastes. I found Ben Katchor’s The Daily Grand Prix and Forbidden Rooms to be unreadable due to the tiny art and garish colors. Most of the stories, however, are just what Gaiman said: Some Really Good Comics.
The catch, though, is the second part of Gaiman’s proposed title: Including Extracts from Longer Stories. As he says in the introduction, most independent comics are produced nowadays in graphic novel form, which means a full book-length story. The best this volume does is snatch slices from those larger stories that will hopefully make a complete picture. Yet, too often, this approach doesn’t work. I have never read Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe, and the little snippet here doesn’t encourage me to pick it up. Lilli Carre’s The Lagoon had me hooked right up until the abrupt ending.
These little slices are almost frustrating. It’s like buying a DVD full of movie trailers. You are just getting advertisements in the hopes of encouraging you to pick up the feature-length film separately. However, as Neil Gaiman said, this is just A Sampler. As long as you keep that in mind, you should be okay.